Now that football season is upon us, I've come out of blogger hibernation and will begin posting several times a week. The first weekend of the college season begins Thursday night, with a couple of compelling matchups on the slate. Last season, a number of so-called mid-major programs and conferences made some noise in big upsets of BCS conference teams. I will be making weekly predictions, primarily of games involving top 25 teams and other important BCS conference matchups.
UNC 31 at (6) South Carolina 34: I'm really tempted to take UNC in this game, despite all of the hype and high expectations for the Gamecocks. Conventional wisdom dictates that if you're going to pull the upset, game one is the time to do it. The Tar Heels could be improved offensively under second year coach Larry Fedora after scoring over 40 points a game last season, but I'm going to have to stay with South Carolina, mainly because they're at home and I think their defense can slow down the UNC.
(24) USC 31 at Hawaii 17: Despite the fact that Trojan coach Lane Kiffen has yet to name a starting quarterback to replace the departed Matt Barkley, I think they still have too much for the Rainbows. Coming from Southern California, Hawaii shouldn't be quite the distraction it might be for some other teams. Last year I wasn't alone in thinking USC had national championship potential. I think the Pac-12 might be a little strong at the top for them this year, but the Trojans still have a strong roster and could be in the top ten by season's end.
Ole Miss 28 at Vanderbilt 30: This is a very interesting early season matchup of two teams on the rise in the SEC. Under coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels have been compiling top recruits and there is some reason for serious optimism in Oxford. But Vanderbilt was the victor by a point in this game last year and the Commodores have also improved, winning their final seven games of last season and looking to build on their best record since the Jay Cutler era. I like what James Franklin is doing in Nashville, so I'll go with Vandy in another tight game.
Massachusetts 6 at (23) Wisconsin 42: The Badgers have a new coach, but a lot of the roster that now-Arkansas coach Bret Bielema took to the Rose Bowl is still intact. No contest here, with UMass coming off a 1 - 11 season.
Buffalo 10 at (2) Ohio St 38.: Buffalo saw improvement through last season, but they really aren't any match for a team that many think, under coach Urban Meyer, can unseat Alabama.
Toledo 27 at (10) Florida 24: This is not a walkover for Florida. Toledo contended in the very strong Mid-American Conference last year and could give the Gators a fight in the Swamp. Of the top teams with mid-major opponents this weekend, this is probably the best upset possibility. Florida has a history of sluggish starts, but they better come to play Saturday afternoon. I'm not a big Gator fan, so I'm going with the huge upset.
Rice 21 at (7) Texas A&M 31: So now we know that Johnny Manziel will serve a huge, uh, well, maybe not so huge, uh, actually a kind of slap on the wrist. Really? Well, I guess the NCAA showed him. Or is it them? Despite the incredibly punitive action, I think A&M can still pull this one out. But all kidding aside, Rice can still be dangerous and a win would make their season. With all of the distractions, the Aggies better get focused.
Mississippi St. 34 at (13) Oklahoma St. 31: This is an interesting showdown between the SEC and the Big 12. The Bulldogs opened 2012 with seven consecutive wins before running into Alabama, then faltered down the stretch with only a win against the beaten down Arkansas Razorbacks in their last five games. The Cowboys are coming off an up and down season, where at times their defense was virtually non-existent. I believe we'll see the SEC defensive superiority exhibited in this game, as Mississippi State pulls the mild upset.
Temple 13 at (14) Notre Dame 31: The Irish are coming off their disappointing performance against Alabama in the BCS championship game, and the Owls should provide a nice beginning to the 2013 season.
Central Michigan 13 at (17) Michigan 34: The Wolverines won this game easily last year, 41 - 7. Central Michigan struggled early in 2012, but won their last four games and five of their last six, including a bowl game. But I don't see them having enough to pull the upset in the Big House.
Eastern Washington 24 at (25) Oregon St. 30: The Beavers host the third-ranked FCS Eagles. In recent years, these have been dangerous games for FBS schools thinking they're cake walks. Eastern Washington gave Washington St. all they could handle last season, so Oregon St. better bring their A-game.
Louisiana-Monroe 27 at (16) Oklahoma 34: This is the same La.-Monroe team that went into Little Rock last season, knocked Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson out of the game and proceeded to derail the Razorbacks' season. The time has passed when BCS conference teams can overlook their Sun Belt Conference foes in these early season games. It's a rebuilding year in Norman, so don't be surprised if the Sooners get surprised in this one. However, I think they'll find a way to hold on.
Wyoming 10 at (18) Nebraska 38: This one shouldn't be any problem for the Cornhuskers. Wyoming is coming off a 4 - 8 season against less than stellar competition. I'm not sure what the rest of Nebraska's season will look like, but at least they'll begin 1 - 0.
New Mexico St. 7 at (15) Texas 42: Mack Brown is rumored to be on the hot seat in Austin. While this victory won't necessarily change that situation, he can at least go to next week remaining undefeated. The Aggies, not to be confused with the Longhorns' former Big 12 rivals, only managed one victory in 2012. Way to go Mack, coming out of the gate with a real challenge. Come on, now. Play someone credible and maybe I'll believe Texas deserves some notice this season.
(5) Georgia 38 at (8) Clemson 35: This is probably the game of the opening weekend with national championship implications. Georgia opens the season with back to back games with top ten teams, both from the state of South Carolina, as they also have to take on the Gamecocks next week. But they can't overlook a strong Clemson team, picked to win the ACC. Even though I'm basically an ACC guy, I like Georgia coach Mark Richt and think this might be his year with the Bulldogs. This pick won't please my nieces, but I think Georgia is just a little better.
(12) LSU 24 vs. (20) TCU 27: Although technically a neutral site game at Jerry's house in Arlington, TCU's campus is less than 20 miles down the road in Fort Worth. Of course, it's not a bad drive for LSU fans, either, so the atmosphere should be a good one. I think LSU is way over-ranked after having lost a lot of players to the and in another SEC - Big 12 matchup, I think TCU will pull the minor upset.
(19) Boise St. 27 at Washington 31: A lot of experts believe Washington has the potential to be very good this season. I tend to agree and think Boise State's stay in the top 25 will be short to start the season. This isn't the same Broncos team that contended for the national championship in years past. In an unusual bit of scheduling, these two teams played to end last season in the Las Vegas bowl with Boise coming out on top 28 - 26. This time, however, the game is in Seattle, where I believe the Huskies will prevail.
Nevada 17 at (21) UCLA 28: In his second season at UCLA, Jim Mora has reason for optimism to follow up his Pac 12 South title with continued success. I like the Bruins in this one.
(22) Northwestern 34 at California 13: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald tries to continue the remarkable job he's done with the Wildcats, hoping to build on a ten-win season that culminated with a bowl victory over Mississippi State. Cal has a new coach and is probably not strong enough to give Northwestern much of a test.
Ohio 24 at (9) Louisville 30: Led by Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville has high hopes for this season. However, this is the same Ohio team that beat Penn State to open the 2012 season. Ohio began last year strongly, struggling down the stretch in the tougher than expected Mid-American Conference. I think the Cardinals will prevail, but this game is worth checking out Sunday afternoon.
(11) Florida St. 27 at Pittsburgh 17: Welcome to the ACC, Pittsburgh. The good news is the Panthers move from the Big East, the bad news is they open with the team most expect to contend for the title with Clemson. Pittsburgh's Heinz field is a tough place to play and the Seminoles always seem to stub their tow at some point. However, I think they have too much on both sides of the ball and should have a solid start to the season.
Nicholls 6 at (3) Oregon 58: Not much to say about this one.
Louisiana-Lafayette 24 at Arkansas 28: The Razorbacks suffered two losses to teams from the state of Louisiana last season, one expected and the other a shocker, at least at the time. Bret Bielema makes his Arkansas coaching debut and hopes to avoid the fate of his interim predecessor against Louisiana-Monroe that signaled the demise of the Razorbacks' season. I'll be in the stadium for this one and feel like the Hogs will prevail in a close one.
Virginia Tech 17 vs. (1) Alabama 28: My Hokies are coming off their worst season in twenty years. It resulted in a new offensive coordinator, something Tech fans have been wanting for a while now. I guess we'll see if QB Logan Thomas can do to Alabama what Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel have done in recent seasons. It's a tall order, especially with the injuries that have plagued the Hokies in the preseason. While I certainly hope Tech can pull the upset, I just think they have too far to improve on both sides of the ball to contend in this one. And Alabama, well, they're still Alabama and Nick Saban is still Nick Saban. Sorry, fellow Hokies, but I just don't see this one going our way.